3 votes – Pau Gasol: Two years is a long time in sports. And after putting in what could only be described as a meek performance in the 2008 Finals, Gasol had a lot to prove this time around.

Of course, avid watchers of regular season basketball would have seen the improvements Gasol has made to his game in that time; the new-found aggressiveness on the offensive glass (3.7 per game this season, up from 2.3 per game in 2008), the stingier defense, the toughness. It was all there on display during the regular season. In fact, I wrote elsewhere that I believe he’s the second-best big man in the game, behind Dwight and ahead of guys like Bosh, Duncan and Dirk, simply because his game now has no holes in it whatsoever – he’s become the complete big man.

But obviously, a Finals match-up with the Celtics was a perfect way to test out whether his skills would stand up under the most intense pressure. I’m sure the Celtics were hoping they’d be able to knock Pau around, unearth some mental scars and render him ineffective for the series.

Instead, Pau stepped up and dominated. He smashed the glass (8! Offensive Boards), scored when he had to, and completely took Garnett out of his offensive game with his length and quick feet.

It was a performance that left absolutely no question marks. Pau Gasol, for the rest of this series, will be the best big guy on the floor. By some margin. And that has to be giving Doc Rivers nightmares.

In fact, his Game 1 performance made me pause and question whether Pau might in fact be the very best big in the game, ahead of Dwight? I don’t know the answer. Maybe the rest of the series will provide it, one way or another.

Be warned though: if Pau keeps racking up the 3 votes in this series, the puns in the title will only get worse.

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2 votes – Kobe Bryant: Too quick for Paul Pierce, too smart for Tony Allen, too tall for Ray Ray. And any time the Celtics attempt their swarm defense to stifle Kobe, Pau is there to punish them.

Watching the game, it was obvious that Kobe had done a heap of film work to ensure he was much better prepared in 2010 than he was two years ago. There was to be no feeling out the defense in Game 1, none of the usual over-dribbling and jab-stepping. It seemed like he had played out in his mind every possible scenario on every catch, so that when he got the ball the decision was instantaneous. So quick was Kobe making his move, that he genuinely took the Celtics’ D by surprise a couple of times.

I wonder if Kobe will be tempted to try to dominate Game 2 to regain the lead in the Finals MVP race. The man’s work ethic is more than matched by his ego, after all. I’m sure the Celtics are hoping as much. But if he gives us a repeat of the same controlled and unselfish performance that we saw in Game 2, I get the feeling Jack Nicholson’s enormous smile will only widen.

1 vote – Ron Artest: Played exactly the sort of game that the Lakers brought him in for. Led everyone in plus/minus with +26, made Pierce earn every bucket and nailed three 3-pointers. I also absolutely loved his reaction after he made that big defensive play on Big Baby – that sort of celebration while the ball is still live is very rare these days, but it was great to see. Not only was Ron pumped about putting Big Baby on his arse and keeping the ball in, it seemed like he was genuinely excited about contributing to a Finals win in a more general sense.  Say what you want about the guy, but he’s as competitive as anyone, and it’s great to see him on the NBA’s biggest stage.

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